GORDON WILLIAMS, STAR Writer
John Barnes (left) with Jamaica Football Federation president Captain Horace Burrell. - file
John Barnes may have been proud to wear the England jersey, but admits his citizenship was clearly Jamaican for at least part of his international playing career.
The former Watford, Liverpool, Newcastle and Charlton Athletic playmaker, said he could not recall exactly when he acquired a British passport, but revealed that during his early years with England's national team, starting as a teenager in 1983, he carried a Jamaican passport.
"At 19, I don't remember, I don't think I even became even a British citizen," said Barnes while in Jamaica recently to watch the Reggae Boyz beat Mexico and Honduras in World Cup qualifiers.
" ... For my first 18 months playing for England I had a Jamaican passport. I never had a British passport."
Barnes was born in Jamaica and was recently appointed coach of the country's senior men's national team. He went to Britain with his family around age 13 when his father, a Jamaican military officer, was posted there. He was signed by Watford in 1981 and soon made the England under-21 team. He later earned 79 full international caps for England, scoring a dozen goals. But he can't recall acquiring British citizenship and no one asked him to prove it.
"I don't even know if the English F.A. didn't know that I wasn't born there and wasn't brought up there," explained the 44-year-old Barnes, "but I played for England under-21s ... Six months later I played for England, but I've got a Jamaican passport."
That subjected him to different treatment.
"So when we used to go to Russia, Czech Republic, I've got my England suit on, I have to go into a different queue to the England team," he recalled. "And the Russian man would look at this Jamaican passport, see me with an England thing and he was like keep me at the airport for all two hours."
The situation later changed, but Barnes is still not sure how.
"So as a matter of convenience, I got a British passport," he said. "I don't remember filling any forms in. I don't remember applying for a British passport. I just became (a British citizen) ... So maybe I played (for England) illegally, right? So, that's how I played for England."
However, Barnes said he has no regrets. He said he did not consider playing for Jamaica because at the time the Reggae Boyz had not yet made a significant mark on world football and he was eager to get to the game's biggest stage. England offered the best opportunity.
"I wanna play in the World Cup," Barnes said, "but I'm 18, a little black boy from Jamaica. So I can play for England or I can play for Jamaica. But also, as it turned out, I could play for England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales. I never signed anything, but I could play for any of the British teams ...
"So as stupid as it seems, the only reason I played for England was because they were the first to ask. They were the biggest and the best country, but if Scotland had asked me first I wouldn't have thought I would be good enough to play for England. You go and play for Scotland."
By the time Jamaica achieved football prominence leading into the 1998 World Cup, other British-born players had taken the opportunity Barnes missed.
"It would be like Robbie Earle, who went to play for Jamaica, at that particular time," he said. "That's the point I'm making. So I am now at 18, 19 and it's a bit different, because it happened so quickly for me. By the time I was 18 I was virtually in the England squad knowing that I had a chance to play for England. If Jamaica asked me to play would I hold on for a little while, play for Jamaica? Or if I got to 23 and not playing (for England) would I play for Jamaica? ..Because what you want to do is, we want to play in a World Cup. It doesn't matter, you want to play in a World Cup and I know England's going to the World Cup. I would have to have asked myself, would Jamaica qualify for the World Cup? So all of these ifs and buts we really don't know ...
"If it was 1996 when I know that and I'm an 18-year-old boy and I see how far Jamaica has come and can go to the World Cup, it may have been an easier decision to play (for Jamaica)."
Earle and several British-born players with Jamaican roots, including Paul Hall, Deon Burton, Fitzroy Simpson, Marcus Gayle, Darren Powell and Frank Sinclair, represented Jamaica at World Cup 1998. Others, including Jamal Campbell-Ryce, are part of the pool of players involved in the current qualifying campaign.
Meanwhile Barnes, who officially takes charge of Jamaica after the country's last CONCACAF semi-final round qualifier against Canada on November 19, was recently appointed by the English Football Association as an ambassador to promote England's bid to host World Cup 2018.
Gordon Williams is a Jamaican journalist based in the United States.